NBA Playoffs: Heat flaws show up big, Pacers exploit them to even series

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Miami fans, the time to panic may be now.

Indiana certainly didn’t dominate Miami in their ugly 78-75 Game 2 win, but they did make the Heat look like a team that may be fatally flawed without the third member of their “Big 3” in the lineup. The Heat had plenty of chances to win this game, but ended up giving home-court advantage to a team that nobody was predicting to win the series. Also, Miami simply didn’t look like a championship-caliber basketball team on Tuesday, which may be an even worse sign for them.

Miami was never able to get it going offensively, but they hid that in the first half by playing some absolutely suffocating defense on the Pacers, holding them to just 33 points in the 1st half and seemingly having an extra man on the court defensively.

In the 3rd quarter, however, Miami took their foot off the gas pedal defensively, Indiana was able to get a 28-point quarter, and Miami was unable to recover. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did their best, combining for 21 of Miami’s 23 fourth-quarter points, but LeBron missed 2 key free throws with 54 seconds remaining, and Wade missed a contested layup that would have tied the game for the Heat with 16 seconds remaining.

The Pacers missed a ton of free throws on their own to allow the Heat to stay in the game, but they were able to hold on after Mario Chalmers missed a game-tying 3 as time expired.

The story tomorrow will likely be about Wade’s missed layup and LeBron’s missed free throws (the latter more than the former), but the truth is that Miami’s offensive problems go much deeper than their ability to make shots down the stretch, especially with Bosh out of the lineup. Chalmers and Mike Miller played like they were shaving points. James Jones missed all 3 of his 3-point attempts. The team shot 1-16 from deep. Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, and Ronny Turiaf combined for 7  points, and Erik Spoelstra seems to have lost faith in Haslem, the team captain, who only played 12 minutes.

No single Pacer had a great game, but that’s the beauty of this Pacer team — they don’t need big performances. They got what they needed when they needed it — a Leandro Barbosa floater here, a Danny Granger jump shot there, a David West post move on occasion, all the way down the line, and it was all they needed to beat the Heat on a night where Miami simply couldn’t get anything done offensively.

It’s simple for the Heat now — if they don’t win at least one game in Indiana, they’re going to go home early and have no rings to show for 2 years of having their “big three.” After Derrick Rose got injured, a lot of people expected Miami to have a fairly easy road to the finals, but the frontrunners should be feeling serious pressure right now.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.